Randal Grichuk‘s first two stints in the Major Leagues weren’t exactly what he envisioned they’d be.
The talented young outfielder, who came to St. Louis in the David Freese–Peter Bourjos trade on Nov. 22 of 2013, made his debut on April 28 and struggled in his first nine games. He batted just .143 in 22 plate appearances, tallying three hits, one RBI and seven strikeouts with just a .182 on-base percentage.
Back to the minors he went, only to return near the end of May. This time he was in St. Louis for 10 games, but the struggles continued. Grichuk batted .130, just three hits in 23 at-bats. He hit his first career home run during this stretch against the Toronto Blue Jays, but he fell out of favor in the outfield after tallying eight strikeouts.
Grichuk, who tore the cover off the ball when he was at Triple-A Memphis, just couldn’t seem to carry the same success with him when he joined the Major League club.
“The most important thing I have learned this year is probably playing with confidence,” he said. “I struggled the first time coming up and realized it was because I was playing tentative and not playing with confidence. I was letting too many things get to me and not playing my game.”
Grichuk was sent back down following the June 11 game and finished the Triple-A season with 25 home runs, currently tops in the organization. He was recalled on Aug. 26, and it appeared he figured things out during that stint in Memphis. He’s started seven games since his recall and boasts a .325 average, .341 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage. He’s provided tremendous defense in right field, showing off his throwing arm while making several diving catches.
He’s also proven to be a reliable pinch hitter, particularly against left-handed pitchers, and on Friday he started in right field and hit his second home run of the season in the top of the first inning off of Cincinnati lefty David Holmberg. It was an important home run in a 2-1 win that kept the Cardinals 2.5 games ahead over Pittsburgh in the National League Central race.
He’s driven in two runs since his recall with 10 strikeouts, but the success at the plate has earned him more at-bats and more starts. The more frequent playing time has only helped him continue to improve, he said.
“Being up with the big league team is great,” Grichuk told Fox Sports Midwest’s Jim Hayes following Friday’s game. “But it’s more fun when you can do something to help the team win, and I did that tonight.”
So what’s the difference this time around?
“I think this time I’m not thinking as much and just playing with confidence,” he said. “Going out there and just playing hard.”
Grichuk is just one piece in a crowded and talented group of Cardinal outfielders. With Matt Holliday and Jon Jay as the likely regulars, that leaves Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty, Tommy Pham and Grichuk vying for one, maybe two open outfield positions, barring any off-season trades. He said Cardinals management hasn’t yet talked to him about their long-term plans for him within the organization.
He’s confident in what he can provide at the Major League level.
“I would say that I can do a little bit of everything — play defense, run the bases, hit and hit for power,” he said. “I’m not just a one-dimensional player.”
He admitted he’d be disappointed if he’s left off the postseason roster, but said that would provide plenty of motivation for next season. Right now his focus is on the next week and helping the team close out a division title.
“It’s awesome,” Grichuk said of the pennant race. “To be a part of a team in a race to win the division title is what you play the game for, a chance to make it to the postseason. September baseball in St. Louis is definitely a blast. Packing the season full every night creates such an intense atmosphere to play in. It makes me excited to see what St. Louis feels like in October.”
You can reach Cole Claybourn at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @HighSock_Sunday.